Christian Smith, in his must-read and challenging book, Bible Made Impossible, The: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, contends that what many of us (evangelicals) affirm is impossible to hold with intellectual integrity. He calls this belief “biblicism,” and if you want to read what it is read this post. The fundamental problem that undercuts biblicism as a sufficient basis for articulating the Christian faith is interpretive pluralism. That’s the big idea.
In the first three chps Smith unpacks the meaning and problem with biblicism, but he’s not done. He then pokes into nine more factors, and once again, Smith’s done a great job of making his readers say, “OK, uncle, tell me your theory.” We won’t get that today. Instead, I will sketch (briefly) nine more problems with biblicism, which can sometimes be expressed as Bible-only-ism. (Come back Monday, when I will sketch Smith’s essential approach to Bible reading.)
Can biblicism be practiced consistently? I’m particularly interested in what you think of #5 below — how the biblical passages don’t add up to the case for biblicism?
1. Blatantly ignored passages/teachings. A biblicist has no ground to dismiss or set aside or enculturate passages, but all of them — so far as I know — do just things with texts like (Smith’s examples) greeting one another with a holy kiss. C’mon, you say? Here this out: on what grounds does the biblicist dismiss such passages? Where is the hermeneutical guide? He gives other examples, including women being silent, etc.
2. Arbitrary determinations of cultural relativism: this ties to #1. Sometimes biblicists are comfortable saying something is cultural, like women being silent, eating pork, covering heads, etc.. But what is the ground if biblicism is right?
3. Strange passages, and here he pokes at Titus 1:12-13 where Paul, at the least, trades in a less than noble form of ethnic stereotyping — all Cretans? always? lazy? liars? Always? really? Or the Nephilim of Gen 6:1-4.
4. Populist and expert practices diverge from biblicistic principles: far too often people find what they already believe instead of finding what is there. He refers there to some serious scholarship examining just this (Bielo and Bartkowski).
5. Lack of biblical self-attestation. The most important texts on the Bible — John 10:35, Rom 15:4, 1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 3:15-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21 — do not add up to biblicism but to divine inspiration. It requires supplementary arguments to get from such texts to how biblicism frames things (see the link in the first paragraph to this post to see the ten items).
6. The genuine need for extrabiblical theological concepts: you can’t find things just in the Bible that are central to the faith of orthodox Christianity. Trinity, etc.
7. The Bible-only-ism approach was first put into the circuit by Enlightenment liberals, and it was designed to attack creedal orthodoxy, and it is now embraced — in almost the same forms (see Noll, Hatch) by biblicist evangelicals.
8. The biblicist framework has never been able to adduce a solid comprehensive social ethic, and this is one reason it has been both so absent and built at times on thin foundations.
9. Pastoral: the biblicist model, when encountering non-biblicists of both a liberal or more creedal form, leads to crises, sometimes to abandoning the faith.